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Serbian Orthodox

- Established Between 7-9th centuries A.D.

Perhaps the longest process of conversion of all the early denominations, the Serbs were converted to Christianity not long after their arrival in the Balkans which were formerly occupied by various nomadic Germanic tribes like the Goths and Visigoths, and thereafter the Huns. This church began to be established in the mid 7th century due to the preaching of missionaries from the Eastern Church. This was long before the Great Schism which split the visible Christian Church into a western Latin-speaking (Roman Catholic) and an eastern Greek-speaking (Eastern Orthodox) Church. During the early Middle Ages, the religious allegiance of the Serbs was divided between these two churches.

In 893 AD, Thessaloniki missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius and a number of their disciples had a phenomenal impact for Christianity on the formerly pagan Slavic nations of eastern Europe and the Serbs were a part of their outreach. A couple of their disciples, Clement of Ohrid, and Naum, managed to prepare and instruct the future Slav clergy into the Glagolitic alphabet and the biblical texts. However, the Serbs were slow to completely abandon their paganism and over the course of nearly 200 years finally officially accepted Orthodoxy collectively by families and by tribes in a process which took place between the 7th and the 9th centuries.

In commemoration of their baptisms, each Serbian family or tribe began to celebrate an exclusively Serbian custom called Slava in a special way to honor the Saint on whose day they received the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Slava is the most solemn day of the year for all Serbs of the Orthodox faith as it celebrates the spiritual birthday of the Serbian people and was proclaimed a Church institution.

The various Serbian principalities were united ecclesiastically in the early 13th century by Saint Sava, the son of Stefan Nemanja the Serbian ruler and founder of the Serbian medieval state. Although it could be said that Sava is the “founder” of the modern unified Serbian Orthodox Church but in reality, the Serb church had already been founded several hundred years earlier - by whom, history is silent as the church was uniquely founded over a lengthy process.

Sava persuaded the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to establish the Church in Serbia as an autocephalous body, with Sava himself as its archbishop, consecrated in 1219. This sealed Orthodox Christian supremacy in the Serbian realm, which was somewhat divided in its loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church prior to this 1219 proclamation.

The Serbian church has survived Muslim persecution over the centuries under the Ottoman Turks. It is a common Muslim practice to tax Christians and Jews so excessively that they either flee the area or remain in poverty or slavery. The Serbs are a stalwart people and the Serbian Orthodox church has proved to be the same.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, or the Church of Serbia, is one of the autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Christian churches. It is the second oldest Slavic Orthodox Church in the world, as well as the westernmost Eastern Church in Europe. It exercises jurisdiction over Orthodox Christians in Serbia and surrounding Slavic and other lands, as well as exarchates and patriarchal representation churches around the world. The Patriarch of Serbia serves as first among equals in his church which is a decidedly Eastern Orthodox approach to church governess. This is in stark contrast to the Roman Catholic Church which, nearly a thousand years ago, adopted a more pagan “monarchial” hierarchy with sworn allegiance to a sole supreme leader (Pope). There are currently 3100 parishes with approximately 10 million members.
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